The southern Blackwood Forest – Brevoy
(The 17th Day of Erastus, 4711 AR – morning)
“I hear something down there,” Albia whispers. “Someone moving something heavy. Drop a torch so I can see.”
She, Marcus and Akorian crouch at the top of the stairs, peering into darkness. The shutters on the guard room windows have been closed, thus plunging the rest of the tower into absolute blackness.
After a moment the half-orc grunts, and shakes his head. “No need. I can see fine. They’re still down there, clustered near the door. One of them has brought something, and they’ve all gathered to take a look. I can’t make it out from here.”
“Now would be a good time to drop oil on them,” Akorian adds. “Can you hit them from here?”
“I can try.” Marcus takes a bottle of oil from the Chelish noble, hefts it, and seems to judge the relative distance from the ledge to the door to the tower, far below. He hurls it then, and watches as it arcs through the shadows, and falls to shatter on the stone floor at the base of the steps. Shouts and general cursing in Dwarven are heard thereafter.
“Now! Iacobus calls. “A torch! We need a torch!”
“Allow me.” Kyras steps forward and murmurs words of power. The torch in Akorian’s hands bursts into flame, and the rogue tosses it end over end into the shadows below. The dwarves are seen scurrying out of the way as the torch lands amongst them, and the spilled oil bursts quickly into angry, leaping flames.
It is only then that you see what the dwarves were manhandling down there – a pair of large oaken barrels. The “flaming brand” sigil denoting lamp oil is clearly stenciled on each, a fact that causes your stomach to clench and your heart to race as the flames leap even higher, and a great, roaring gout of heat shoots up to flash-fry you where you stand – or so it seems, at least. The heat is terrific, though, searing your skin, and threatening to pull the very air from your lungs. Thick, acrid smoke blots out all light, making it nigh-impossible to see, much less breathe.
Light! Air! You have neither. Your chest constricts, and you fall to the cold stone floor, gagging. Spittle flows from your mouth, and your eyes fill with tears. Then, strong hands seize you at the arms, and drag you bodily to your feet. There is a metallic clatter as the shutters are reopened, and weak sunlight pierces the haze-filled gloom. Marcus helps you to the window, and you peer down at the roof of the manor, now 10’ below. Akorian goes first, scuttling over the side like some gangly spider, and swiftly alights on the tiles below. He next helps Talathel, Iacobus, and Albia down, for they are the ones most effected by the smoke. Then Marcus climbs down, followed by Kyras. The smoke continues to billow out the windows of the tower, spilling thickly into the cold, misty sky above. For a long moment you all stand, staring, and very thankful to be alive.
Angry shouts from below stir you into action. Crossbow bolts suddenly hiss up at your from the ground below, and you see a number of dwarves clustered there, plying their weapons with deadly accuracy. Luckily no one is hit as several bolts clatter uselessly against the roof tiles of the ruined manor house.
“There! Go in there!” Iacobus shouts. He points to the gaping hole in the roof that you spied earlier. Dashing onward, you all make your way to the opening, and peer inside. More shouting is heard as the dwarves call after you, angry at being denied the bloodshed they feel they are due.
“Akorian. Use your rope.” Marcus points into the opening at his feet. Below you you see a large, open space, cluttered with broken roof tiles; the chamber has the look of an abandoned chapel, with two rows of sagging wooden pews that march up the center isle towards a long, low altar. The entire area is thick with neglect, cobwebs, and ruin, suggesting that no one has come here in a very long time.
“Here. Help me.” Akorian kneels at the of the opening and pulls a length of strong elven rope from his pack. One end is quickly tied to a jutting crossbeam, secured, and then the other end is tossed into the opening. Even as he does this more crossbow bolts hiss at you from the ground below, and a muffled shout is heard. Talathel grimaces in pain, as does Kyras and Akorian. Kyras quickly sends forth a burst of healing energy, however, thus mitigating the attack very effectively. Then Marcus dangles his legs over the opening, grasps the rope, and clambers down as quickly as he is able, swinging wildly back and forth the entire time.
He lands adroitly in the darkened alcove below. He peers for a moment, searching the gloom for any sign of danger, but sees nothing. He then grasps the end of the rope, and holds it firm so that the rest of you can clamber down with less fear of falling. The first thing you notice is the faded five-pointed star emblazoned on the flags at your feet – the symbol of Asmodeus, the Dark Prince. Obviously this was once a chapel devoted to that dread dark god, but no longer. Now it all lays in ruin, and shrouded in thick cobwebs, dust, and ashes.
“Come on, this way.” Akorian points towards a set of ornate double doors that lead to the north. Together the party moves forward, weapons held ready.
You do not get very far. There is a soft rustling in the shadows overhead, and then something ponderous scuttles across the web-strewn rafters above. You pause, and the breath catches in your throat as a huge, black shape appears before you, creeping forward on eight, long, delicate legs – a gigantic black widow spider the size of a horse! Your horror and disgust must wait, however, as a similar (but smaller) creature appears to the other side, framing the exit. Myriad, beady eyes goggle at you, and drooling mandibles hiss and snap. Then, with one ferocious leap, the mated pair of spiders approach, one to either side. Within moments the chamber is aswirl with grunting, weaving bodies, flashing mandibles, and the deft flicker of razor-honed steel.
Albia cries out as sticky webbing sprays from the abdomen of the female arachnid, and binds her arms to her side. Within moments she is held fast to the chamber floor, and cannot move! Kyras comes to stand at her side even as the huge female scuttles forward, eying her with obvious hunger. A poisonous stinger flexes as the eight-legged demon makes its initial approach! Akorian’s bowstring snaps, and a feathered shaft juts of the creature’s thorax; it is not enough to slay the beast, however, forcing Kyras to step in and defend the struggling warrior as best as he is able.
Meanwhile, Iacobus and Marcus move to engage the smaller male of the species. Their blades lance out, and slash into thick, warty flesh. For his part Talathel holds back and plies his bow, all to no obvious effect. Still, vile ichor flows from several wounds to the creature’s body. Then, those flashing mandibles lash out and sink into Marcus’s shoulder, drawing fresh blood! Their touch burns him, and fills his blood with some putrid venom. He staggers back, parrying, and lashes out again. More ichor pours from the creature, and it too lurches sickeningly, now very badly wounded.
Albia is in even worse straits, it seems. The female spider lurches atop her, biting and hissing, and tries to rend her face with its mandibles. Venom-slathered incisors clamp down on her helmet, and the creature begins gnawing… Once it realizes it cannot get a taste of her delicious flesh, the frustrated beast begins to thrash about, too and fro, as if attempting to tear the helmet from her head. Desperate now, Albia redoubles her efforts to cut free of the webbing, and saws at the sticky strands with the blade of her dagger. Moments later those same strands are severed, and she manages to free herself!
Kyras slashes down at the female’s thorax then, and draws its attention away from Albia. She rolls to her feet, recovers her sword, and now stands before the spider, finally capable of defending herself. Akorian launches yet another arrow into the thing, wounding it once more. Meanwhile, Marcus plunges his blade deeply into the body of the smaller spider, slaying it instantly. Thus freed of their foe, he and Iacobus turn to see Albia, Akorian and Kyras still menaced by their much larger enemy. With this in mind the pair races forward, and moves to engage the female arachnid as well.
The creature, now surrounded, hisses and snaps at them with mindless abandon, seemingly unsure of which of its foes to attack first. It never gets the chance to decide however, for Iacobus does not hesitate. Instead he leaps forward, and buries Kasaeyris to the hilt in the demon’s snarling visage. It quivers once, sickeningly, and then goes still forever, legs curling beneath its bloated torso.
“Was anyone bitten?” Kyras asks. The answer is yes: Both Marcus and Iacobus have been injured, it seems, although the wounds do not appear to be festering, or rancid with poison. After examining the pair carefully, Kyras uses his healing magic upon them, and requests that they inform him immediately if they feel ill or out of sorts.
While this is going on the remainder of the party is examining the room for any signs of loot or danger. Luckily it is the former that is discovered: Talathel discovers a web-draped figure in one corner, covered thickly by sticky strands. His dagger makes quick work of the webbing, however, and inside is found a dry, desiccated husk – a man, perhaps, or even a dwarf. So little of him remains that it is impossible to say for certain. However, his chain armor and field pack have survived, more or less intact. Within the pack you discover numerous coins, some of which glimmer with the pure silvery gleam of platinum.
Your search completed, and the healing ministrations of Kyras complete, the party reforms at the stout double doors you spotted earlier. Akorian listens carefully for a moment, but hears nothing beyond them. Marcus shoves them open, and you see a long, dark corridor, filled with naught but shadows and dusty emptiness. The corridor itself stretches to both the left and right, with other hallways stretching both forward (and deeper into the keep) and to the right, which seems to feed onto a residential wing of the former manor house. A lone door to the left probably leads back in the direction of the entrance foyer you saw earlier, wherein you battled the skeletons.
You are just considering what to do next when the clatter of heavy boots on dusty stone reaches your ears. From the right-hand hall comes a phalanx of dwarf warriors, clad in scale armor, and wielding axe, mace or hammer. They pause as they see you, and you realize that they too wear face-paint crafted to make them look less than human, like ravenous undead – but the effect is ruined as the lead dwarf raises his finger, points directly at Marcus, and gives the command for his fellows to attack.
Raw chaos explodes into being moments later. Iacobus, Marcus and Albia form the front rank of battle, with Talathel and Kyras holding back to bring support as needed. Only three dwarfs can engage you in this manner, largely due to the narrow confines of the hallway. For his part Akorian dashes into the shadows, and disappears down a side hallway, apparently intent upon working his way around to the rear of the enemy formation.
None of you have time to worry about that, however. Blades gleam in the sullen glow cast by your witch-light, and the battle is joined. Albia swings wildly, trading accuracy for power, and decapitates the dwarf closest to her with one mighty swing! Marcus, however, is not so lucky, and is wounded as a dwarf brings his axe down on the half-orc’s shoulder, gashing him badly. Kyras, however, is there immediately, and chants the words to a healing charm. Moments later the wound is partly healed, and Marcus continues to fight, largely unaffected by the incident.
For several long moments there is the clash of blade on blade followed by the fatigued grunting of men locked in mortal combat. Then, Marcus guts another dwarf, as does Albia. Another dwarf falls as an arrow suddenly juts from the base of his throat – Akorian has appeared as if by magic in the shadows behind them, and nocks another arrow – and the survivors suddenly seem far less sure of their chances at victory. One dwarf decides to turn and run – but not in cowardice, it seems. Instead he decides to chase after Akorian, who is forced to run back the way he came. Iacobus parries with the sole remaining dwarf, who fights with a desperation born of both fear and the certain knowledge he will be killed if he is foolish enough to surrender. It does not matter in the end, however. Iacobus runs him through, gutting him in one quick strike, and then dashes off in an attempt to rescue his brother before the last remaining dwarf can find (and kill!) him first.
Akorian, however, is not particularly in need of a savior. He dashes up the corridor, back the way he’d come originally, and darts into a side corridor. There he pauses, gasping for breath, and draws his trusty rapier. Moments later the pursuing dwarf rounds the corner as well, and simply impales himself on the rogue’s outstretched blade. Gasping wetly, the dwarf gapes down at the blade that impales him, a shocked look on his craggy features. He then slides to his knees, clearly spent, and dies, leaving the less than gallant Akorian none the worse for wear.
You all pause then, gasping for breath and near exhaustion. Again Kyras lets the healing power of his Goddess flow through you, and your fatigue is alleviated somewhat. Iacobus in particular seems very pleased with himself, and thusly passes around a small flask of brandy that he discovered on the body of one of the dwarves. You all partake, even if it is only a sip, before collecting yourselves and searching the immediate area for both more threats, and anything that may be of use. You find that the residential wing of the manor is divided into around a dozen or so small rooms, each with a cot, a chest of drawers, and a hard wooden stool. Each room is clean and tidy, almost as if those within were expected back at any moment. A few stray coins are recovered as well, and the party continues onward, and soon finds yet another door on the other side of the hallway.
Here you find a well-stocked pantry. Within are stacked barrels of wine and ale, wheels of cheese, strings of sausages, that sort of thing. Iacobus and Akorian cheerfully help themselves to the bounty offered, and eat their fill. The brothers are just considering tapping one of the kegs when a distant shout is heard. You all pause, listening intently, and hear the distant rumble of hurried conversation. After a moment you decide the sounds are coming from the doorway that probably leads to the entrance section of the keep itself.